Can Florida basketball solve Virginia’s vaunted pack-line defense?

Florida basketball faces its first big non-conference challenge of the season when it takes on Virginia on Friday night (7 p.m., ACC Network) at the basketball Hall of Fame series in Charlotte, N.C.

Virginia’s identity on defense, most notably, the smothering pack-line defense employed by 14th-year coach Tony Bennett, who guided the Cavaliers to a national title in 2019. Under Bennett, Virginia’s defense ranked 25th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency last season, per KenPom.

The pack-line was created by Bennett’s father, former Washington State and Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett. It’s a variation of man-to-man defense, only rather than having off-ball defenders pressuring players and denying the pass, everyone but the player guarding the ball must be inside an imaginary line 16 feet from the rim. The defense is designed to take driving lanes away from the basket.

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Second-year Florida Gators coach Todd Golden faced Virginia’s pack-line in 2020 as head coach at San Francisco. After trailing 24-21 at the half. the Dons rallied for 41 points in the second half to pull off a 61-60 upset of the Cavaliers.

“They’re really, really disciplined and do a good job of covering each other up,” Golden said. “All five guys defensively are connected. They make it hard to get in the paint and they’re showing and getting back …

“We couldn’t really score in the first half, then did a really good job in the second half trying to take advantage of the way they guard. But this team will be really disciplined, and we’ll have to do a really good job of executing if we want to have a chance to score on these guys.”

UF (1-0) is coming off a 93-73 win over Loyola Maryland, a game in which it played efficient offense, shooting 58.1 percent from the floor with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 17-11. Florida scored 21 fast break points, but getting out in transition will be more a challenge against a Virginia team that plays at a more deliberate pace.

“They like to play half-court style offensively and we’re trying to put more tempo and pace into the game, so that’s going to be a battle of wills a little bit,” Golden said. “That’s something we’re mindful of and something we’re trying to do.”

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Florida Gators basketball faces early test against UVA defense

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